Love the movie “A League of Their Own”? Check out these 5 children’s books about women in baseball

If the phrase “There’s no crying in baseball” means anything to you, then you’re probably a fan of the 1990s film “A League of their Own,” a movie I grew up watching and loving. I didn’t play baseball, but the theme of female empowerment through sports (especially soccer) was a big one in my family. Even as a child I loved knowing that this inspiring film was based on a true story.

Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the inaugural games of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the real league created in the 1940s to keep America’s favorite pastime alive while American men fought in WWII. But the white women who played in the AAPGL aren’t the only ones who have stepped up to the plate over the years. Here are 5 picture books about girls and women who loved baseball.

Anybody's Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League BaseballAnybody’s Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball by Heather Lang

The year is 1950. The girl is Kathryn Johnston, who loves baseball so much that she cuts off her braids, puts on a ball cap and tries out for a local team as “Tubby,” a boy who can block ground balls and hit home runs with the best of them.
This picture book tells the triumphant true story of the first girl to play Little League baseball. Though set against the social context of constricted gender roles, the supporting characters – including Kathryn’s mom, dad, and coach – show that not everyone of the time period thought girls and women less capable. And for those who did, Kathryn proves them wrong.
Back matter includes a timeline about women and girls in baseball and more details on how long it took for girls to be officially allowed in Little League.

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley StoryShe Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick

Effa Manley was not just a successful sports executive and the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She was a person who didn’t accept the status quo. Not when white-owned stores in Harlem didn’t hire black employees. Not when other baseball team owners said women shouldn’t be involved. Not when the Baseball Hall of Fame didn’t include Negro League players among its inductees.
Vernick deftly weaves together a wide range of Effa’s achievements in this well-paced picture book with pleasing illustrations by Don Tate.
One disappointment: there’s no back matter with extra information about Effa or how the book came about.

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith HoughtonThe Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick

What a cool story. Edith Houghton was just 10 when she joined the teenagers and women on the Philadelphia Bobbies pro baseball team in 1922. I love that this is a story about a female athlete where the focus isn’t on her gender (though I like those stories), too. The focus is on her skills and her adventures with her team, which included a months-long tour in Japan, where the Bobbies played pro and college men’s team. The charcoal, ink and gouache illustrations are just right for making the story real and relatable to kids.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball DreamCatching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard

This picture book is about Marcenia Lyle, a girl who loves baseball more than anything. We learn in the afterword that Marcenia was signed to the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, making her the first female member of an all-male professional baseball team, but this story doesn’t get into Marcenia’s adult life. It focuses on one spring when Marcenia dreams of being accepted to a summer baseball day camp run by the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. That means not only showing off her skills to the man in charge, but also convincing her father to let her attend.

Crystal Hubbard’s choice to highlight one emblematic chapter of Marcenia Lyle’s childhood is a great way of introducing a lesser known athlete through a conflict that builds and that draws in young readers.

Players in PigtailsPlayers in Pigtails by Shana Corey

Did you know that the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is about a girl who loves baseball? Shana Corey takes that fictional girl and puts her in the real setting of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in this fun, upbeat sports story.

And if those aren’t enough girls-and-baseball books for you, here are a few more that I haven’t read myself:

Advertisements

The Best Books I Read in 2017: Middle grade, YA & Adult

I’m back with a continuation of yesterday’s post on my favorite picture books I read in 2017. Today’s list covers my favorites from middle grade through adult.

What were the best books you read last year?

Middle Grade
The Tea Dragon SocietyThe Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

I love everything about this book! Manga-style illustrations are infused with fairy tale magic resulting in wonderfully diverse characters, adorable dragons, memory-evoking tea, and a gentle friendship story about a capable girl learning both the craft of blacksmithing and the art of tea dragon caretaking.

In addition to the story there are some delightful “Extracts from the Tea Dragon Handbook” at the end. Reading it enriched my second and third looks at the tea dragons’ quiet behavior throughout the illustrations. The handbook includes descriptions of four tea dragons not featured in this book; I sure hope that means we’ll get to see them in a sequel!

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. WhiteSome Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet

This book made me want to buy a farm house in the woods where I can live and write. (Except I wouldn’t want to take care of pigs.) A lovely biography of a beloved writer, illuminated by all kinds of archival document treasures and Melissa Sweet’s wonderful collage and illustration work. Quite long, so more for an older elementary school crowd, especially those who’ve read White’s books!

Roller GirlRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Roller Girl evokes all the joys and frustration of pre-teen friendship in the fun, off-beat setting of a roller derby camp.

 

Young Adult
Tiger LilyTiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This book is enchanting, clever and also heartbreaking. Heartbreaking not because of a single event but the accumulation of small ones gone wrong, mostly due to the folly of youth and inexperience. It’s the truth of that woven into this fantasy world that made me cry — and pick it up to re-read immediately.

FlygirlFlygirl by Sherri L. Smith

I picked this up at the library with only a glance at the synopsis — seeing that it was about a young woman training to be a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot, a WWII program) was enough of a hook for me. But within a few pages, and after getting confused by the cover art versus the opening narration, I learned that there’s an extra layer of social complexity at play in Flygirl. The light-skinned black main character, Ida Mae, is not only breaking gender barriers as a pilot; she’s also defying Jim Crow roles by passing as white to enlist. The book’s historical setting is thoroughly researched and the plot is crafted with strong, believable emotional stakes. Sometimes Ida Mae’s internal feelings could be delivered more subtly, but that didn’t prevent me from becoming totally absorbed in this story. Would love to see this as a movie.

Adult

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia WoolfA Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa

One of my favorite books I read this year. The subject is inherently interesting to me, but it also very well executed. Each literary friendship the authors selected has a narrative arc and the writing rich with description that make it easy to imagine the time, place and people. So it almost feels like reading one of the subjects’ novels rather than a work of nonfiction.

Additionally, I loved reading about Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney’s own writing friendship and their research process for the book. Unfortunately, gaps in historical records led to a lot of sentences that begin with phrases like “She must have felt …”. I don’t mind their informed conjectures but the repetition of those phrases disrupted an otherwise active and engaging writing style. I also wasn’t overly compelled by their arguments that female literary friendships have been vastly overlooked in contrast to male literary friendships. I was not familiar with any of the latter examples they cited, but that may just be because I don’t dwell in the world of literary biographies. Other readers may be more convinced of the argument that this book is a historical corrective. Either way you see that, it’s a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys British literature, women’s history and shine theory.

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Totally absorbing. A rich world full of enchantment, complicated characters and political twists that will keep you guessing as to whose story you can really believe. And the ending! Gah. If you’re averse to cliffhangers, wait till the next book comes out before you start this one.

What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American TeenWhat Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan

A tough read given the subject — a college athlete’s suicide and the broader issues around mental health among American youth — but also a must-read for anyone working with teens. Fagan sensitively crafts a heart-wrenching narrative while acknowledging the things she/we cannot know about what was going on in Maddy’s mind leading up to her death. I do wish some of the data and other research referenced had been footnoted for further reading.

The Reappearing Act: Coming Out on a College Basketball Team Led By Born-Again ChristiansThe Reappearing Act: Coming Out on a College Basketball Team Led By Born-Again Christians by Kate Fagan

I picked up “The Reappearing Act” from the library on a Saturday afternoon and finished it by Sunday morning. Why couldn’t I put it down? Because this slice-of-life memoir has all the page-turner-y goodness of a novel, plus the authenticity of author’s real struggles as a gay college athlete circa 2001. Fagan deftly alternates between the process of coming out over several basketball seasons and flashbacks to earlier memories that play off the main action as it unfolds. The result is a narrative arc propelled by both vivid details and emotional heft.

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Cirque du Soleil. If you love all of these things, you’ll love The Night Circus.
*This was actually one I returned to and re-read because I loved it so much in 2016.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Don’t wait. Read this now. Funny, relatable, smart and compassionate essays on being a fat woman in a world that disdains both those characteristics.

Inspiring women on the silver screen: Dolores Huerta and Billie Jean King

Dolores1

Dolores Huerta leads the audience in chanting “Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power!” at a screening of the new documentary about her life, Dolores, in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15. Photo by Kara Newhouse.

On any given day I’m much more likely to be found reading a book than watching a movie. But tell me about a film featuring rad women in history, and I’m in. I recently wrote about two such films.

In a piece for Excelle Sports, I interviewed female sports leaders such as Olympian Nancy Lieberman and Peachy Kellmeyer, the first full-time employee for the Women’s Tennis Association, about their memories of the Battle of the Sexes. That historic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs is the subject of a new movie with Emma Stone and Steve Carell. The women I spoke with all shared powerful stories about how the real event affected their lives as women in sports.

For Images & Voices of Hope, I wrote about Dolores, a documentary about farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta, a critical leader in the grape boycott of the 1960s and 1970s. The story includes video clips of Dolores from the post-screening Q&A I attended in D.C.

On the kidlit front, if you’re interested in sharing the stories of these women with your children or classrooms, check out Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren. Surprisingly, I was unable to find any standalone picture book biographies about Billie Jean King, though she does appear in some sports anthologies for children.

 

3 Newsletters you need to read during Women’s History Month — and all year round

pjimage

We all get way too much email, I know, but some things are worth adding to your inbox. Like these 3 fantastic newsletters.

  1. A Woman to Know | This well-researched yet concise newsletter is the perfect daily morsel of rad history/inspiration that I can read at some random spare moment and then immediately archive. Created by Washington Post writer Julia Carpenter.
  2. Unladylike | This one comes from Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, the sharp and sassy ladies who formerly hosted one of my favorite podcasts. Unladylike takes more dedicated reading time, but it catches me up on the good, bad and the ugly of the past week’s societal (and global) conversations about women, gender and feminism.
  3. Women in the World | In a conversational tone, this newsletter shares the gist of stories from the NY Times page of the same name. Full of links to the NY Times stories of course.

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: Kidlit about Black Music History

Each Wednesday in February, I am highlighting great nonfiction picture books about African-Americans. These posts are my way of marking Black History Month and also part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge organized by Alyson Beecher.
Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown SoundRhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: From award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney comes the story of the music that defined a generation and a movement that changed the world. Berry Gordy began Motown in 1959 with an $800 loan from his family. He converted the garage of a residential house into a studio and recruited teenagers from the neighborhood-like Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross-to sing for his new label. Meanwhile, the country was on the brink of a cultural revolution, and one of the most powerful agents of change in the following decade would be this group of young black performers from urban Detroit.

My thoughts: I love Motown music and relished reading some of the stories behind the voices, instruments and business behind the sound. With great archival photos and much more text than could finished in a read-aloud, “Rhythm Ride” feels somewhere between a book and a documentary. But does that mean it’s dry and boring? Not in the least, because it’s narrated by “the groove,” and she talks as smooth and sweet as she should.
The frequent plays-on-words can be a little much at times but otherwise the conceit works wonderfully. Would we expect anything less from Andrea Davis Pinkney?

Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence MillsHarlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renée Watson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: From acclaimed author Renee Watson and Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson comes the true story of Florence Mills. Born to parents who were former-slaves Florence knew early on that she loved to sing. And that people really responded to her sweet, bird-like voice. Her dancing and singing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired songs and even entire plays! Yet with all this success, she knew firsthand how bigotry shaped her world. And when she was offered the role of a lifetime from Ziegfeld himself, she chose to support all-black musicals instead.

Trombone ShortyTrombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renée Watson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Along with esteemed illustrator Bryan Collier, Andrews has created a lively picture book autobiography about how he followed his dream of becoming a musician, despite the odds, until he reached international stardom.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and QueensMahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: Even as a young girl, Mahalia Jackson loved gospel music. Life was difficult for Mahalia growing up, but singing gospel always lifted her spirits and made her feel special. She soon realized that her powerful voice stirred everyone around her, and she wanted to share that with the world. Although she was met with hardships along the way, Mahalia never gave up on her dreams. Mahalia’s extraordinary journey eventually took her to the historic March on Washington, where she sang to thousands and inspired them to find their own voices.

My thoughts: What I love about “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens” is the voice. It starts from the first two lines:
“People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right. A voice that was bigger than she was.”
That conversational tone carries through Mahalia’s youth into her adult singing career:
“Mahalia kept driving on those may-blow tires: tires so bald, they may blow any minute. No money to fix them. Keep singing and driving.”
I can just hear one of Mahalia’s relatives or neighbors from down south telling the story, and it makes me feel like I’m sitting on their front porch listening.

Little Melba and Her Big TromboneLittle Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: Melba Doretta Liston loved the sounds of music from as far back as she could remember. As a child, she daydreamed about beats and lyrics, and hummed along with the music from her family’s Majestic radio. At age seven, Melba fell in love with a big, shiny trombone, and soon taught herself to play the instrument. By the time she was a teenager, Melba’s extraordinary gift for music led her to the world of jazz. She joined a band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson and toured the country. Overcoming obstacles of race and gender, Melba went on to become a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few.

My thoughts: The artwork really drew me into Melba’s story. There’s something about the curving, bending stances of the people Morrison paints that so exquisitely matches the smooth notes of jazz, and I love it. The figures also mirror the shape of Melba’s trombone.

Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-And-White Jazz Band in HistoryBenny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-And-White Jazz Band in History by Lesa Cline-Ransome

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: A stunning picture book celebrates the first widely seen integrated jazz performance: the debut of the Benny Goodman quartet with Teddy Wilson in 1936 Chicago.

My thoughts: In a unique approach to a picture book, this dual biography tells the parallel stories of Benny and Teddy developing their love and talents for music as children. As adults they meet and form an interracial swing band that draws fans through recordings but doesn’t perform live — until one day in Chicago in 1936.

Detailed back matter acknowledges that Benny Goodman had to be coaxed to perform onstage in an interracial trio because of fear for the impact on his individual career. Good fodder for a classroom or parent-child discussion of values and choices.

nonfiction-pb-challenge-2017

5 must-read children’s books about the Women’s Suffrage Movement

You know that phrase “I can’t even” that’s been floating around the past few years?

That’s how I feel about discussing this year’s election.

But when it comes to voting, I can.

And I will.

In the meantime, I’ll be distracting myself with these wonderful picture books about the women who made my vote possible. Let me know in the comments if you have favorites not listed here. In particular, I’d like to find a strong contemporary picture book about Sojourner Truth.

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles1. Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has it all! A cross-country road trip, activism for women’s suffrage, great female friendship, and a kitten.
By introducing readers to Nell Richardson and Alice Burke’s 1916 adventure, Mara Rockliff and Hadley Hooper show children that many people were part of a long journey to getting women the vote.
The text and illustrations work together to capture Alice and Nell’s verve and zeal. You’ll have the refrain “Votes for women!” running through your head well after setting the book down.

I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote2. I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well before women won the vote across the U.S., women in Wyoming had a say in their state government. This story shows how Esther Morris helped make that happen with a can-do spirit and a bit of tea time cleverness.

This biography covers the span of Morris’s compelling life. I’d love to see a picture book that focuses in more on how women in Wyoming got the vote and who else was involved. Continue reading

Two picture books about Irena Sendler | #IMAWYR 6/5/16

IMWAYR-2015-logo

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

In recent weeks I’ve read two biographies of WWII hero Irena Sendler.

Jars of HopeJars of Hope by Jennifer Roy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simultaneously chilling and powerful story of one woman’s bravery in saving children during the Holocaust. It shows two opposite extremes of human capabilities.
I appreciate that although the book focuses on Irena Sendler, it also shows and names some of the others who also risked their lives in Zegota, an underground group of Polish men and women who rescued Jews from the Nazis. I also appreciate that it shows multiple families and scenarios in which Irena worked to rescue children. As opposed to other excellent books that focus on one individual or family’s experience, that choice points to the magnitude of the atrocities, as well as underscoring Irena’s courage.
There is something a little strange about the book’s layout, though — particularly the text placement and end pages — that makes it feel a bit like a print-on-demand text.
This is definitely worth reading if you don’t know anything about Irena Sendler, as I didn’t.
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw GhettoIrena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An illustrated biography of a Polish social worker who risked her life over and over to save Jewish children during the Holocaust. Illustrations done in oil paints bring the historical figure to life. The story is best suited for older children with some background knowledge about WWII. It is text-heavy, so it’s not ideal for a read-aloud, but it provides more details about Irena Sendler’s work than a similar book, “Jars of Hope.” Good for an elementary classroom research project.

Interview with “Fearless Flyer” author Heather Lang

Heather LangLast week I wrote about my happy discovery of nonfiction kids’ books by Heather Lang. Her most recent title is “Fearless Flyer,” about early aviatrix Ruth Law. This week Heather answered some questions from me about the picture book biography. Enjoy!

Do you enjoy flying?
I’m what you would call a fearFUL flyer. I always do experiential research for every book, which I knew might be a little scary for this one! I wanted to do something that would help me understand what it was like to fly in an open cockpit. Since I couldn’t find an early biplane, I decided paragliding was the next best thing. Once I let go of the initial panic and terror, it was a wonderful experience—soaring up and down like a bird. It inspired me to weave the theme of liberty into the story—both the freedom she felt and sought as a pilot and as a woman. I’m not saying I want to become a regular, but I’m not as afraid of flying anymore!

How did you first learn about Ruth Law?
Since I’m a nervous flyer, those early aviators who risked their lives going up in their flimsy flying machines have always intrigued me. I read a lot of books about flying and early aviation and was especially fascinated by the women who came before Amelia Earhart. They are virtually unknown. Ruth’s spunky personality drew me in right away, and I loved how she became a mechanic, learning every nut and bolt on her machine. Continue reading

Nonfiction picture book Wednesday: Fearless Flyer and Queen of the Track

nonfiction picture book Wednesday

Check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday link-up at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Last week I discovered an author kindred spirit.

It started when I pulled “Fearless Flyer” off the new books shelf in the children’s section of the library. After reading the story of pilot Ruth Law’s attempt to fly from Chicago to New York in one day in 1916, I did what I always do at the end of a when a book rings my kidlit bells: I read the author bio. Continue reading

True stories of 3 diverse athletes and 1 female sportswriter | #IMWAYR 4/18/16

IMWAYR-2015-logo

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

It finally turned springlike in recent days, with buds on trees, and kids returning to baseball diamonds and lacrosse fields.

Apropos of the change in season, I’ve read several great children’s books about athletes (and one sportswriter) recently. Here are my Goodreads reviews for those books.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball DreamCatching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This picture book is about Marcenia Lyle, a girl who loves baseball more than anything. We learn in the afterword that Marcenia was signed to the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, making her the first female member of an all-male professional baseball team, but this story doesn’t get into Marcenia’s adult life. It focuses on one spring when Marcenia dreams of being accepted to a summer baseball day camp run by the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. That means not only showing off her skills to the man in charge, but also convincing her father to let her attend.

Crystal Hubbard’s choice to highlight one emblematic chapter of Marcenia Lyle’s childhood is a great way of introducing a lesser known athlete through a conflict that builds and that draws in young readers.

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the GameThe William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

William Hoy is a man worth knowing about. Plenty of details and events in here for all kinds of kids to relate to. Well written and well illustrated.

Continue reading